Event ReportsPublished on Jun 24, 2021
Citizen Engagement Approaches on Decentralisation

Over the years, decentralisation has been an effective method in fostering citizen participation in decision-making, leading to improved social accountability, seamless and transparent information dissemination, and robust policy making. At the heart of strengthening such participation are accountable local governments which create an enabling environment for citizen engagement in public sector activities.

It has been observed that localised knowledge within communities enables innovative governance as it provides crucial contexts and nuances to strengthen ongoing processes. The penetration of digital devices and data generated through their use holds great importance as it builds a bridge between the market, state, and the communities themselves.

Strengthening the digitisation of under-served regions can unleash the potential of regional development and community empowerment. It would enable residents of regions, that were previously left out of the ambit of development planning, to create their own models of growth that fit the needs of the region and encourage greater inclusiveness in planning and governance.

Within this context, the Observer Research Foundation along with the World Bank and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched a programmatic knowledge exchange series titled, “Informed Community Decision-Making and Community-Based Data-Driven Initiatives” to bring together eight countries from Africa, South Asia, South East Asia, and Central Asia for peer-to-peer learning on how different stakeholders, from the government to civil society organisations can work together in data generation and the creation of inclusive data-driven policies.

The second webinar on the Citizen Engagement Approach on Decentralisation was held on May 25, 2021, where delegations from Kenya and Cambodia shared learnings from the  initiatives in their respective countries. Kenya highlighted the outcomes of participatory budgeting, Cambodia shared insights on their Implementation of a Social Accountability Framework (ISAF), focusing on a community-based data-driven initiative to ensure good governance at the national and sub-national level. Taking a cue from the points of the country presentations, similar initiatives were also shared by India-based organisations like SEWA, Pradhan, and Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy.

Initiatives in Kenya

The new constitution of Kenya promulgated in 2010 enshrines the involvement of the public in the formulation of policies to improve governance, ensure awareness, and espouses the same as a national value. The County Government Act and Public Financial Management Act of 2012 further highlights the importance of this participation. It establishes 47 county governments headed by a governor, one of them being the Makueni County whose government in 2013 established the Public Partnership Framework. The mission of this county is driven towards the transformation of each household through accountable leadership that creates an enabling environment for inclusive, effective, and efficient service delivery. Participatory Budgeting (PB) was adopted to enhance equity in the distribution of resources, building trust between the county and its citizens, improve service delivery through Management Committees, enhance budget transparency and feedback. There exist subunits in the county which are basic level planning units.

Mr. Waigi, Director of Budget and Expenditure, Makueni County, Kenya, highlighted that one of the primary challenges faced in the development of the initiative was project implementation. Several aspects were addressed in this regard to ensure the budget is truly participatory and sustainable. These include (1) project designs, preparation, and monitoring via community identified project management committees (PMCs), (2) project implementation and committee contribution in financial or non-financial development, (3) participatory monitoring for instance PMCs involvement in the payment of all contributors and suppliers, (4) participatory evaluation via the development of various forums. Such planning and budgeting through consultative forums have been used to enhance the reach of the initiative and consider proposals of citizens from every part of the county. Adopting measures to enhance the aspect of appraisal of these projects are important in efficient resource allocation based on costs and assessing the overall viability of the same. This could be enhanced through technology adoption in the process along with overcoming the challenge of limited internet access to the citizens.

Collaboration with the World Bank, Kenya Accountable Devolution Program (KADP) has led to the further enhancement of the PB through aspects such as (1) thematic PB hearings to enhance inclusiveness, (2) prioritisation of community proposals, (3)  technical appraisal of a project proposals leading to an increase in trust between the government and communities, (4) adoption of technology in the process such as digital mapping of resources to inform community decisions and enhance decision-making, (5) feedback mechanism through digitising the process—through updating timely information on portals. There exists a six-layer structured form of participation called County Model of Engagement.

These aspects have led to positive outcomes such as just and equitable distribution of resources based on available data, resource allocation based on the need of the citizens and, thereby, increased trust. However, the need for civic education to enhance the capacity of community has been recognised along with the need to overcome the challenge of scalability of the digital process.

Initiatives in Cambodia

MA ONN Ma On Nath, Deputy Director General, General Department of Administration, Ministry of Interior, Cambodia explained Cambodia’s approach in detail, starting with describing how over the years Cambodia has developed its strategic frameworks for decentralisation and deconcentration reforms. Around 2013, the country led to the inception of the Strategic Plan on Social Accountability for Sub-National Democratic Development (I-SAF) with its pilot in 2014, phase 1 in 2016–18 and phase 2 in 2019–2023.  Ry Sotharith, Senior Program Officer, World Vision International, showcased that each component of I-SAF involved both demand-side (civil society) and supply-side (government) actions. The demand side includes training Community Accountability Facilitators (CAF) who are volunteers leading the process at a local level via facilitation of community dialogues and engaging local authorities to secure their support for the program, disseminate information for citizens (I4Cs) to citizen along with organising community scorecards. The supply-side actions at a national-level, establishes rules and standards, and at the sub-national administration level engage citizens in their performance and service delivery. To ensure that most marginalised citizens are involved in the initiative, resources are diverted towards their social protection, encourage them to attend the council meetings as a safe platform where their voices would be heard and volunteers are encouraged to visit door-to-door to collect proposals from the people, bringing back the information to the centre for evaluation. For instance, learning and monitoring which is a component of ISAF, involves both demand side and supply side actions. It aims to provide a culture and mechanism for “learning by doing” about processes and results. The findings on the ground are continually fed back into capacity development processes and the guidance for implementation. More recently, ISAF mobile application has been developed to involve more citizens in the framework.

The approach to citizen engagement is done through involving citizens in commune council elections, monthly meetings with citizens, regular public consultation forum with them and by ensuring local participation in the five-year development plan and three-year investment rolling programme process. Each council sets up an independent ombudsman to receive and handle complains of citizens regarding their service delivery and all administrative management issues. The social accountability framework is designed and implemented at district and commune levels to improve transparency, increase access to information and promote citizen-led monitoring on performance of local governments.

In this regard, apart from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on service delivery and citizen participation, some major challenges acknowledged included the requirement of information management as database systems require regular updates, the need for strengthening the link between data analysis and evaluation and the need for a developed method of information dissemination as traditional approaches might limit outreach.

Despite the challenges faced, some opportunities were also identified. These included the possibility of development of a standard data centre in the future and adoption of digitalisation approaches which would have a greater impact on citizens as information can be accessed online, service delivery can be monitored and feedback could be received through technology.

These have led to a significant improvement in the responsiveness and performance of public service providers. Local governments receive more information on citizens, thereby, prioritising needs. Thus, overall a positive impact of the framework has been observed on transparency, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness of service delivery.

 The importance of decentralisation was further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic as organisations take a decentralised approach to combat the spread of the virus. For instance, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy in Bangalore initiated a ward-level COVID management approach where every ward has a war room, a primary health centre, a triage centre, and community volunteers. The organisation also focuses on participatory budgeting, similar to the Kenyan initiative, where a primary survey is done to understand the aspects that the citizens of the city wish to see in the budget. Although cities are growing, people living in the periphery of the cities are yet to have access to basic amenities similar to those living in the cities' commercial parts. In that regard, such initiatives in Bangalore enhanced the engagement of citizens across the city leading to a more equitable distribution of resources.

Another organisation in India that encourages citizen engagement is SEWA; the SEWA Shakti Kendra is a local women empowerment centre i.e. an information and learning hub led by women who have been trained to use digital tools, and these hubs create an interface between local people and various schemes of the governments. Amidst the health crisis, when there was tremendous fear and misinformation about the virus in rural India, the gap was filled by local grassroots women leaders who quickly adopted digital tools and technology, effectively using Zoom and WhatsApp to circulate lifesaving information as videos and voice notes in local languages. These women trusted by local people, have also been collecting authentic information and coordinating with local public health, authorities to implement informed actions to mitigate further spread of the virus in the rural areas.

The importance of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in identifying the absolute poor was emphasised by Pradan. Like Cambodia’s examples, this organisation also believes in the demand-supply model and, thereby, has developed a GPS Enabled Entitlement Tracking system (GEET) which is used to collate information and allows reviews and follow-ups at multiple levels. They are inspired by the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) which has facilitated thrift promotion, increased credit linkages and empowered communities in India.


The session highlights the importance of bringing together local groups that can process information available and act as a bridge between the citizens and the central government as a means to improve governance. To expand the reach of information engaging local groups to go door-to-door has proven to be effective. In terms of prioritising marginalised groups, granting loans to women to access digital resources such as smartphones have been viewed as a positive step towards improving digital literacy. Emphasis has also been laid on social capital and building connections which forms the core of developing such initiatives for the community.  Further, the organic nature of the use of digital tools has been observed as demand-driven which can be attributed to a source of generating income and economic activity, accessing markets, and social security making it important to match the increasing demand with supply initiatives. Thus, in the era of digitalisation, access to digital technology has been acknowledged as a challenge across the panel and shall be addressed in the subsequent webinars.

This report was written by Srijita Bose, Research Intern at ORF

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